Vogtle Venture Costs Public

David Kyler, Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
AJC Guest Column March 9, 2012

Most Georgians evidently don’t understand that residential power customers, in lieu of stockholders, are absorbing unfair costs of adding two new nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle. The General Assembly made that part of the utility-rate structure in state law adopted several years ago.

Assuming the reactors are ever put into use, customers footing this bill will be rewarded with electric service made available by costly new generators that may not even be needed, enabling excess power produced by Georgia Power to be sold to customers in other states at a handsome profit. Although there are provisions preventing power produced by the new reactors from being sold outside Georgia, the company can still sell power generated at their other plants to customers in states such as Florida, where power plants are better regulated.

Putting the nukes online will free up electricity generated at other Georgia Power facilities in Georgia. Consequently, the Public Service Commission prohibition is little more than a cover-up, implicitly condoning profiteering tactics used on unwitting customers while stockholders reel in the benefits.

By requiring Georgia Power customers to pay in advance, the General Assembly has created a socialized utility that these same politicians would quickly condemn as a violation of free markets if done by anyone else.

This reverse Robin Hood arrangement ensures that well-heeled stockholders incur virtually no risk from the nuke venture, while reducing their costs by enabling Georgia Power to pay for the multibillion-dollar project with the aid of financial safeguards carried on the backs of the public. The General Assembly has demanded that residential power customers begin paying off Georgia Power’s loans in advance. The company also benefits from billions in federally guaranteed loans. These provisions mean stockholders are exposed to no risk, no matter what the project’s final cost. Georgia Power will profit whether the venture succeeds or not, being subsidized by federal downside limits, an accommodating rate structure and billions of dollars in federal liability protection. Such a transfer of wealth from the typical residential power customer to stockholders and company executives having far greater “net worth” is brazen corporate welfare.

How can it be that politicians who are so strident in their defense of capitalism can be so accommodating to a corporation that wants all the rewards and none of the risks linked to private enterprise?

There are at least two answers, each equally objectionable. Shameful exploitation of the public, multiplied by abusing taxpayers and power customers alike, is revealed by these answers. First, nuclear power is chronically expensive and — despite deceptive claims of rampant propaganda — would not exist in any “free market.”

Since its inception, the nuclear power industry has received, and continues to receive, lavish federal subsidies.

Without such subsidies there would be no nuclear power industry because the costs and risks are simply too great to attract private investors.

Every time a nuclear plant is built, final costs are billions more than originally estimated, imposing long-term economic burdens on energy customers and taxpayers.

That’s why the only U.S. nuke plants being built today are in states having “regulated” markets in which political influence can be used to divert funds toward nuclear projects, thereby favoring select private investors having substantial control over state politicians.

Secondly, Georgia Power has become so entrenched in state politics for so long that it’s virtually impossible for elected officials to protect customers against unfair practices that overly benefit influential power makers.
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